Wrapping up Christmas

December 29, 2016 GMT

As the holiday season comes to an end, a number of Main Street business owners say they are pleased with Christmas sales, but the impact of online shopping can’t be denied. Online retailer Amazon claims 2016 as its best holiday yet with more than one billion items shipped worldwide through its Prime service this season. Worldwide, shopping on the site’s mobile app grew by 56 percent this holiday. Kelly Misamore, owner of Cultivate Nature Shop, definitely recognizes a change in shoppers’ patterns and attitudes. And when customers can quickly find and order items online, they’re less likely to make purchases at brick-and-mortar stores. “People don’t want to do that anymore, and why would they?” she said. “Amazon’s going to deliver it next day Prime, you know. You’ve got it in your hands and you would’ve spent five hours looking for it, and you get it in ten minutes online.” With the rise of smart phones, she said, she began to see more “showrooming” where customers find an item, take a picture of it and then find it online later. So, in an effort to evolve, Misamore had to change the types of items she carries in the store. “That’s why I’m standing here making stuff all the time,” she said, motioning to her pieces made with drift wood, stone or found lumber from the river. For Misamore, who likes to use her shop to educate people about nature, to recycle items pulled from the river is an added benefit of her evolution. Though her holiday was about the same as last year overall, Misamore still has her eyes set on the future of online shopping and hopes fellow business owners and other agencies will work together to continue evolving and promoting. “People still say they want a physical presence, they want people in the store, but I don’t know that the next generation will,” she said. “I don’t know that that personal connection is going to mean anything.” For Fine Threads owner Rhonda Sauley and Ditto’s on Main co-owner Jerry Quirin, this holiday was a successful one. Though both admitted online shopping is hurting small businesses, other factors seemed to benefit them. For Ditto’s, Quirin credited home tours and holiday open houses for busy weekends. For Fine Threads, Sauley considered a slightly unexpected source of business. “I think it really helped that the election was over,” Sauley said. “I think people had a different frame of mind... They were relieved that it was over.” Madison Main Street program director Whitney Wyatt said feedback from downtown business was varied when looking back at 2016. “Several retail businesses have met challenges this year, there’s no doubt about it”, she said. “But we’ve heard from others that it’s been another positive year in the books.” Wyatt said some businesses credit improvements from “increased investment in social media outreach.” On the negative side, she said, others have noted a decrease in festival crowds. For Hertz Shoes and Cocoa Safari Chocolates co-owner Deb Fine, this holiday season seemed to be just as good as the year before, if not better. Fine, who has owned the shoe store for three years and the chocolate shop for 11 years, success comes back to evolving. “I think your business has to evolve. Move with the changing times,” Fine said. “You can’t keep the same old stuff year after year after year and expect to sell. So you do have to change with that, you have to evolve with people. So I think that’s a big key.” Still, Fine experiences the same “showrooming” Misamore cited at her shop. For Fine, some customers still make their way to the shop, but stop short of making a purchase after trying on a pair of shoes. “So many people, even if they’re in the store and see something they love, they’re so programmed now to order their stuff online.” Like so many other small business owners, Fine does her best to gently remind shoppers that these shops need their support. “You don’t want to be rude about it, but you try and educate them on that. But how do you do that? ... That’s the tough thing to fight right now.” With recent losses on Main Street creating vacancies, an atmosphere of uncertainty is created and some might say “Madison’s dying,” Fine said. “I totally disagree. “I think it’s going in the other direction. It’s just, you’re going to lose some people, and then you gain people. I think it’s just a big up and down cycle, that’s just how it is.” Co-owner of The Floating Cow, Marni Todd, said that although she hadn’t added up any numbers, the holiday seemed to be better than the year before with a number of repeat shoppers that were both locals and tourists. Though she believes her business is largely unaffected by online retailers, she continues to remind shoppers to stay local. “They do go online, and they do shop. But I always say to people, ‘you know, your downtowns are going to disappear. You have to support them.‘” National retail chains and the internet have changed shoppers’ attitudes and created more challenges for small business owners across the country, Wyatt said, and Madison is no different. “Local people have to be invested in supporting their small business districts by intentionally shopping local as much as possible. This keeps these districts, such as Madison’s historic downtown, economically healthy.”